Toyota's independent BTCC racers enjoyed varied fortunes today, as Frank Wrathall and the Dynojet Racing team fell foul of some dubious driving tactics from rivals and Speedworks Motorsport racer Tony Hughes enjoyed strong runs to finish all three rounds of the Dunlop MSA British Touring Car Championship on the Brands Hatch Grand Prix circuit.
Wrathall's 'Next Generation Touring Car' Toyota Avensis was punted out of the action in two of the three races, leaving the Lancashire driver frustrated and disappointed. Frank's sole success came in round 26, in which he stormed from near the back of the grid to finish 13th.
His dramas began yesterday with a practice session crash at Sheene Curve, one of the quickest sections of the track. A technical problem pitched Frank's Avensis off the track, through a gravel trap and into a tyre wall, causing frontal damage. Though speedily fixed by the Dynojet crew, the time lost in making repairs put the team on the back foot for the rest of the weekend.
A further visit to a Brands Hatch gravel trap, this time at Clearways, piled on more problems in qualifying. Wrathall had the opportunity for only one flying lap of the 2.3-mile track, and wound up 14th on the 29-car grid for race one.
Wrathall's first race outing ended on the penultimate lap after a clash with the BMW of veteran Rob Collard as they disputed 10th place. "With two laps to go I passed Collard but he then just steered into me," said Frank. "He kept doing so until he broke something in the Toyota's rear suspension." Wrathall was pitched into a spin, off the track and into the barriers. "It's a real shame. I got a reasonable start and was picking my way through. The car wasn't 100 per cent because we lost a lot of track time with problems yesterday, but I was able to look after the Avensis and it was getting stronger and the race was coming to us."
He bounced back from adversity to secure a fine 13th place in the second race of the weekend, however. Frank's Toyota Avensis set a blistering first-lap pace to make up seven places from 24th spot on the grid. Wrathall then snatched 15th from Rob Austin's Audi on lap five through Surtees, and gained two more places when others fell by the wayside.
"We changed the car a lot before the race," said Frank, "and it was a completely different machine, miles better. I made up a lot of places early on; the Toyota was really strong from the word go. I'm really happy to have brought it home where I did after the weekend we have had."
Wrathall's hopes of a points finish in the third and final race of the Brands Hatch BTCC weekend were dashed by another smash-and-grab raid from one of his rivals. He was battling with Vauxhall man Andy Jordan and Ford driver Michael Caine over 12th when Caine sideswiped the Toyota: "When we got to the apex of Paddock Hill Bend he clipped my rear left," said Frank. "It weakened something in the suspension and I could feel that the car wasn't right. Eventually it broke." Frank spun off and out of 13th place on lap four.
"Not a great weekend on the whole, but we'll put it behind us and go for it at Silverstone for the final rounds."
Hughes and the Speedworks Motorsport team got their problems out of the way on Saturday, when a blown head gasket on the TOCA/Swindon engine of their Avensis ended their qualifying hopes and left Tony 29th on the grid.
After an overnight engine change Hughes enjoyed a trouble-free run to 21st place in race one, picking up eight positions from his start slot. "Things went OK," said Tony, "but I am suffering a bit from the time I've had off from racing. I need to get a better feel for it and that will only come from more time in the car. All thanks to Speedworks, who worked long into the night to get the Toyota back in top shape."
The second race brought Hughes 26th place after a slow start, and in the finale he recovered well from a first-corner spin to take 22nd position.
The final rounds of the 2011 BTCC take place at Silverstone in a fortnight's time (16 October).